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A

N O V E L

B Y

S A R A H

P O R T E R

s a r a h P o r t e r
s a r a h
P o r t e r
h a r c o u r t h o u g h t o n
h a r c o u r t
h o u g h t o n
M i f f L i n
h a r c o u r t
2011
Boston
n ew York

copyright © 2011 by sarah Porter

excerpt from “there there”:

words and music by thomas edward Yorke, Philip James selway, edward John o’Brien, Jonathan richard guy greenwood, and colin charles greenwood © 2003 warner/chappel Music Ltd (Prs). all rights administered by wB Music corp. all rights reserved. used by permission of alfred Music Publishing co., inc.

all rights reserved. for information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, houghton Mifflin harcourt Publishing company, 215 Park avenue south, new York, new York 10003.

harcourt is an imprint of houghton Mifflin harcourt Publishing company.

www.hmhbooks.com the text was set in 11.5-point Deepdene h.

Li B rarY of c ongress c ata L oging-in-Pu BL ication Data is aVai L a BL e.

Lccn:2011008438

isBn 978-0-547-48250-7

Manufactured in the united states of america rrD 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

45XXXXXXXX

1

Lost Voices

“ Lucette? Did you even hear the question?” Luce had been gazing out the window at the darkened sky sinking over the harbor still dotted with rough floating ice, the mountain walls of shadow- colored spruce and rusty boulders under the greenish, glassy dusk of a coming storm. Mr. Carroll’s voice jolted her back into the drab classroom with its tan desks and low scarred ceiling, and she noticed with dismay that half a dozen faces were already turning to stare into the back corner where she sat under a tattered map of the world. None of her other teachers ever called on her. Only Mr. Carroll insisted on trying to make her talk. If only he would leave her alone, Luce knew, the other kids would forget her existence completely. She tightened her body and stared as blankly as she could at the board as the first giggles started up around her. Her stom-

ach began to twist and her hands turned horribly cold. She squeezed them together under the desk to stop the trembling. “ Lucette? You should be on page one twelve of your text- book. the third problem?” She was on page one hundred and twelve. She gaped down automatically at the third problem, and she was sure she knew the right answer. It was obvious. the laughter got louder and faster. It buzzed around her like angry wasps. Mr. Carroll waved a hand to quiet everyone, but it didn’t have much effect. She hated the concern growing in his droopy gray eyes. Luce knew that the quickest way to make them all ignore her again would be just to answer the question. Parabolic. She opened her mouth to say the word. Nothing came out except a kind of faint croak. everyone could see her now, and almost all of them were giggling. Her hands were shaking so much that she had to sit on them. Desperately Luce tried to force her voice to shape the word. Just one word and she would be free again. Her croaking got a little louder. Most of the time she could talk as well as anyone, even if she almost always chose to keep quiet. Lately, though, her voice had developed a habit of abandon- ing her whenever she needed it most. Someone squealed and threw a wad of paper at her, clipping her on the side of her head. that was enough to knock Mr. Carroll out of his trance. His wobbly eyes spun away from Luce. His huge round cheeks blushed scarlet, though there was no reason why he should feel embarrassed. “Amber?” Mr. Carroll yelped, too loudly, to a girl sitting all the way at the front. It was almost a shout. It was as if he thought

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he could cancel out the ugliness of what he’d done, drawing all those eyes down on the skinny dark- haired girl who huddled in the back of his class, struggling with the loss of her voice. “I have no idea what the answer is to this stupid problem, Mr. Carroll,” Amber twittered in her happy voice. “Nobody does except you.” the shrieks of laughter that followed were strangely excited, and Mr. Carroll took advantage of the shift- ing mood, clowning as he worked out the problem on the black- board. even now he couldn’t leave it alone, though. He kept shooting Luce guilty looks, pinching his lips together, and of course everyone noticed. every time he glanced her way, a few more pairs of eyes flocked after his. Luce kept her face down, drawing a thicket of black hatched lines in her book until the ink became so dense that hardly any white shone through. When the bell finally rang Luce felt sicker than ever. the other students grabbed up their backpacks and raced out, eager to get to the cafeteria for lunch. Lunch. Where in that bright blocky room would she ever be able to hide? Mr. Carroll tried to catch her attention as she slipped past him, but Luce pre- tended not to notice. “this is, like, eighth grade already,” a boy hissed in her ear. “You act like some freaked- out ten- year- old.” Luce kept her face blank and unresponsive, even when he prodded her arm. She slunk after the other students, staying close to the walls. A crack of thunder smacked against her thoughts. It was terrifically loud. the lightning must have struck very close to the school. Not today, Luce thought, and all at once she remembered the date again. Her stomach seethed, and she knew that the storm

wouldn’t just blow over. She’d have to spend the afternoon watch- ing the rain lash down outside and listening to the window- panes clashing like cymbals in the wind. It would be exactly the way everything was a year ago today: the day her father’s boat hadn’t come home. there was one good thing about the storm, anyway. It was a distraction. Kids huddled in the cafeteria, pretending to be terri- fied of the booming thunder, screaming and grabbing each other. the windows near the ceiling of the tall room looked almost black, and the rain rattled rock sharp against the panes. It was a small space compared to cafeterias Luce had seen before, but even with students bused in from every village within thirty miles it was al- ways half empty. Lightning ripped through the darkness and the windows flashed blinding white and then went dark again. ev- eryone was too busy chattering about the violent weather to think of her. She slipped off to her usual spot at the side and sat alone with her back to everyone, and closed her eyes.

*

*

*

It wasn’t a storm at all, then. Hot sunlight glared through the van’s open window and burned her cheeks. A bright golden blob of sun curled on her palm like a kitten. A sign flashing by outside welcomed them to Missouri. Her father laughed and gunned the motor. “You know they just don’t make cops smart enough to catch up with me, don’t you, baby doll? Look at that. Over the state line already, and they still don’t know what hit them!” She smiled back at him, shy as always, and he beamed at her and twisted a lock of her long hair around one finger. then he squinched his lips

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and shot her a look. “I mean, I guess I have to admit that maybe they could have caught me, once or twice”— he drawled it out playfully, and Luce knew he was faking his reluctance— “if I didn’t have you to help me with strategy. You’re my secret weapon, honey. You’ve got the mind of a great general. And not a one of them ever suspects it.” Luce was already giggling when her father launched into the sluggish, moronic voice he always used to mimic police- men and judges. “You don’t mean to say that that sweet little wisp of a thing could be the diabolical mastermind behind this incred- ible theft, do you? No, I’ll never believe it!” Luce knew he was only kidding. About the most she ever did to help was to stand lookout while her father loaded stolen chemicals or electronics into the back of their van. even so, she loved hearing him say it. “You and me, we’ve got them all fooled, don’t we? Now, as soon as we hit St. Louis I’ll take you to the best bookstore in town, and you can pick out a whole damn stack. And for a hot fudge sundae. You’ve most certainly earned your share of the spoils.” Luce’s bare feet were already propped high on piles of books and the duffle bag holding her clothes. Her gawky knees poked up in front of the dashboard. She could feel her right leg starting to get sunburned, but she didn’t bother moving it. the rest of the van was stuffed with the weird- looking lumps of equipment her father had swiped from his last temporary job, this one doing maintenance work in a huge dry cleaning plant. even the wind swirling across the front seat couldn’t completely get rid of the sharp chemical stink. Sometimes her father wrin- kled his nose into a ridiculous doglike snout and then gave her a sideways grin to let her know the smell bothered him, too.

the smell changed in Luce’s nose. Now it was the greasy stench of tater tots and gluey fried chicken. that moment in the van had happened almost three years before, and the memory suddenly seemed stale and cold, as if she had used it to comfort herself one too many times. Her eyes were still shut tight, but she knew that if she opened them she wouldn’t see the bright sunshine on the highway anymore. “Come back come back come back,” Luce called silently to her father. She tried to make the words powerful and wild, so that he would hear them wherever he was. “It’s been a whole year!” there was no answer. Just the giddy shouting of the kids roughhousing at the tables behind her and the piercing soprano of a teacher who was screaming at them. Luce kept arguing with her father anyway. “It’s my birthday tomorrow. You can’t miss it twice in a row!” It didn’t work. She couldn’t see anything but the dark red insides of her eyelids. She was all alone in this horrible school, with no place to go but back to her uncle’s tiny brown clap- board house two miles outside of town. She could disappear into the woods on days when it wasn’t raining too hard, but that carried its own risks. Her uncle tended to get irritable if he didn’t find her at home, and after a few drinks he might express his irritation by slamming her into a wall. When the bell rang again, she realized that she hadn’t touched her food.

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